Playwright Chiori Miyagawa and I conceived of The Antigone Project as an opportunity for contemporary women theater artists to examine the struggle of one of the most heroic women in dramatic history: Antigone. Our current era—with its erosion of civil liberties at home and increasing U.S. military ambition abroad—made an exploration of this powerful ancient Greek play especially timely. We envisioned an evening of theater comprised of five short plays—in which Antigone's story was reimagined by five diverse, challenging women playwrights.
We began by commissioning playwrights Lynn Nottage, Karen Hartman and Caridad Svich. In Lynn's A Stone's Throw, set in contemporary Africa, Antigone is an unwed mother stoned to death by her community. In Karen's Hang Ten, Antigone and Ismene sunbathe on a beach, discussing their family's incestuous history while they admire Haemon surfing the waves. Caridad's visually and linguistically rich Antigone Arkhe conjures up various Antigones—one digital, one a living statue, one just a voice—to retell her story.
Chiori and I also developed short works: Chiori's intimate Red Again imagines Antigone and Haemon reunited after death in an underworld, surrounded by books that tell the unfinished story of her life. Actress/Writer Amy Brenneman and I set Letter of the Law in contemporary America, with Antigone as a young woman defending the rights of her brother, a Guantanamo detainee. The text interweaves original writing, excerpts of the Sophocles and found texts from the poetic to the political.
I directed readings of the plays at the Public Theater, Second Stage, Classic Stage Company and The Vineyard Theater on Martha's Vineyard. Morgan Jenness, the project's dramaturg, gave invaluable feedback during the development process.
Thanks to a festive benefit at the Knitting Factory (a downtown music venue), we raised over $20,000 which went toward the costs of the final production. Friends, colleagues and supporters were generous beyond measure. Amy Brenneman, integral to the conception of the project from the start, was joined by powerful actors Lynn Cohen, Angel Desai and Peter Francis James in reading excerpts from our work. Singer-songwriter Debbie Deane performed her music.
See photos from the benefit and the readings >
After the development process, The Women's Project stepped in to produce a version of the project (including a new play by Tanya Barfield) as the first production of its 2004-05 season.